Tuesday, December 11, 2012

There's Scrooge, Scrooge ... And Then There's Scrooge

Why Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is one of my favorite, can't-miss stories of the Christmas Season

Not counting stage productions, how many film and television versions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol have there been? The Big Guy and I tried to count them up one night and we got as far as six for film versions and 13 that were made for television — including the cartoon varieties like The Flintstones, Sesame Street and Bugs Bunny. In all actuality, there were 22 film adaptations and at least 37 for radio and television (IMDb). Boggles the mind, doesn’t it? Add in the stage versions and every television series in history that has probably adapted it in one way or another  and I’d wager that Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol ranks as one of the most covered classics of all time.
I’m sure psychologists have had a field day with the appeal of this story. A quick Google search of Psychological Theses Dickens’ A Christmas Carol brought in a modest 9,040,000 results. Really? Then again, Ebenezer Scrooge would be a playground for analyzing the human psyche. As one entry relates, “With A Christmas Carol, Dickens hopes to illustrate how self-serving, insensitive people can be converted into charitable, caring, and socially conscious members of society through the intercession of moralizing quasi-religious lessons.” (http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/christmascarol/section6.rhtml) Or another article goes so far as to use Scrooge to illustrate actual disorders like Post Traumatic Embitterment Disorder (PTED) and Chronic Depressive Disorder. (Dr. Stephen A. Diamond, Psychology Today, December 20, 2011)
Sounds impressive and, as 9,040,000 entries illustrate, the story and Scrooge have been analyzed ad naseum. Me? I just know I love the story.
Perhaps it’s the underlying theme I find of redemption or the idea that, regardless of your past, the future is wide open and available for all who choose to grab on to the positive. Or, maybe, it’s just the pure joy that Scrooge experiences on Christmas morning when he realizes that he didn’t miss the day after all and happiness is truly within his grasp. There is rarely a time that I watch Alastair Sim jump on the bed in elation or George C. Scott throw open the window to call down to the boy to run to the butcher’s that I don’t end up with tears in my eyes.
But despite all the movies, despite all the television shows and despite all the animated versions, I’d like to tell you about my favorite “Scrooge” of all. He wasn’t famous (at least outside our little neck of the woods), he wasn’t rich and he was undoubtedly one of the most influential teachers I ever had.
        His name is Dick Boyd. He was a Language Arts instructor by trade … and by vocation … and I had the privilege of being in his class in seventh and eighth grades. I remember how he scared the bejeebers out of me the first year I had him -- with his graying hair and thick, bushy eyebrows -- and eyes that knew as soon as you slouched in your seat whether you had done your homework or not. But there was something else, a love that I think I recognized even then but certainly appreciate today, a love of language and of the written word. Whether through the stories we read or the papers we wrote, he taught us that words mean things … and how we put those words together was important. Even today when I edit a project, I can hear his voice saying, “and you think that semi-colon goes there, why?” He was an essential part of my education. Whatever seed he planted has become my vocation and, for that, I will be forever grateful to him.
      But there was another side to Mr. Boyd. You see, he brought Ebenezer Scrooge to life for school children and families in the Omaha area for 29 years at the Omaha Community Playhouse. I can’t tell you the first time I saw the play except that it was in junior high after I had had him for at least one year. But I do know that I saw him a half-dozen times in the time since. And my memories of his performance from the first time to the last are all of a man who loved that role, who relished Scrooge’s journey into happiness and celebrated with Scrooge at the end of each performance the exultation of new-found joy.
Dick Boyd retired from the role on December 22, 2005 at the age of 83. At that time, he found some fame with stories about him in USA Today, ABC World News Tonight, and in every local station and regional newspaper (although the local and regional were probably old hat by that time). During his career as “Our Scrooge”, he appeared in over 800 performances … and never missed a performance. I tried to find, to no avail, the news story I once read where his understudy said it was the best role he never got to play.
I ran into Mr. Boyd not too long ago at a local store. He was a little stooped and moved a little slower, but there was no missing his sparkling eyes or his voice that had once made me cringe in my seat when he would call on me in class. As one of thousands of students who had passed through his classroom, he didn’t remember me of course, but I’m glad I got to speak with him for a few moments and express to him my thanks … for the way he taught and for the happy memories he provided with his performance. And I got to share with him the fact that my husband and I were passing on the love of A Christmas Carol and Ebenezer Scrooge to our children.
Regardless of which version of the story you prefer … be it “The Muppets Christmas Carol” or the newer versions with Patrick Stewart or Jim Carrey … A Christmas Carol embodies the spirit of the season:

Joy          Hope          Love           Nostalgia          Exultation

With humble thanks, I wish all of you a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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